Meditation exercises to settle the anxious mind
1. Breath Meditation
Of all meditation exercises the breathing meditation is the simplest. Your breath is always available! And of course, the way you’re breathing is a very accurate reflection of the state of your physiology – how relaxed or stressed you are. If your anxiety or panic attacks are associated with feelings of not being able to breathe, it’s probably best to first check out if you breathing properly. You may like to try one of the other meditation exercises initially until you are more comfortable with your breath.
Meditation is a simple and natural process – so much so that usually our biggest problems with it are about getting in our own way. So before going any further with these meditation exercises read our meditation tips on the Seven Secrets of Meditation page and meditation for anxiety.
Find a regular time to practice, twice a day if possible, for about 25 minutes in all, each session. You can start with 10 minutes and gradually lengthen the practice over time if you prefer. Try to make your meditation a priority over other activities because the benefits are really worth it.
Make sure you won’t be disturbed – take the ‘phone off the hook, turn off the mobile, put on a video for the children, feed the cat etc. Then …
Sit up with your back comfortably upright; you can use a chair if you wish, the main thing is to be comfortable but not so comfortable that you may fall asleep. Hence it is not so effective to practise meditating lying down. (For some people, using meditation exercises can be very helpful if having difficulty getting to sleep although for a few it can restore a feeling of alertness and restedness.) If sitting have both feet comfortably on the ground.
1. Close your eyes and bring your attention inwards to focus on your body.
Be aware of the sensations in your body as an observer, without judgement.
Spend a few minutes observing these sensations without trying to change them in any way. This can be helpful in allowing these sensations to be released. (This process of observation is sometimes used as a meditation practice in itself.)
You may well have churning butterflies in the stomach or other sensations of anxiety, fear or tension in your body – that is O.K. Amazingly, it is possible to have a very satisfying meditation even with these sensations in the body. Just as it is possible to experience happiness with a sore leg or other ailment for instance.
2. Be aware of the silence in the space around you, the silence that exists beneath all sound.
3. Bring your attention to your breath.
Without trying to change it in any way, notice how it flows in and out without effort.
Each breath may be slightly different from the one before – sometimes deeper, shallower, faster or slower. However it comes is all right.
4. Notice the feeling of the breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils.
It is a little cooler as you breathe in, a little warmer as you breathe out.
5. Just be aware of the rise and fall of the breath. The fullness as you breathe in, the letting go as you breathe out.
6. Whenever your mind comes out into thought, as soon as you are aware of this, just very gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Any time strong thoughts or feelings come up in meditation, come back to the practice of simply observing the sensations in the body until you feel settled enough to bring your attention back to the breath.
7. You are not trying to force thoughts away, or resist, nor for the time of the meditation are you going to let your attention be captured by pleasant thoughts or great ideas.
Simply bring your attention back to the breath as gently as you can whenever you notice that the mind has come out into thought.
If you feel that you are using some effort to focus on the breath just relax your attention for a while until you can come back to watching your breathing effortlessly.
8. If your breath becomes very shallow and slow, don’t worry.
During meditation exercises this is a good sign, it shows your metabolism is slowing down and you are experiencing some deep rest.
9. Continue in this way for up to 20 minutes.
You may like to start with 10 minutes and increase over time.
Don’t use an alarm clock to measure the time – it will make you jump out of your skin!
You will very quickly get used to 20 minutes and find yourself opening your eyes to check the time at exactly 20 minutes later.
10. At the end of 20 minutes, sit with your eyes closed for 2 more minutes or so, then very slowly open your eyes.
It is important not to jump up straight after meditating, as this is jarring to the nervous system.
It may occur that for some reason it is necessary to break your meditation before you have finished. If this happens it is always best to return to your practice as soon as you can to finish off the remainder of the session.
If you have time, it is very beneficial to lie down for 10 minutes after meditating and always do so if any strong sensations come up, to allow the body to accommodate the release of stress.
Sometimes during meditation exercises fatigue can be released and you may feel sleepy. If this happens it is good to lie down for a while if you can. Normally you might sleep for about10 minutes. If possible finish your meditation after your nap.